Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Africa is a bucket-list destination for many avid travelers, but what are the bucket-list experiences to enjoy while you’re there? While some might be obviously like seeing exotic animals in the wild, there are probably at least a few you haven’t considered too. These options can help you put together the ultimate African itinerary.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
Here in the Serengeti of Tanzania, wildlife roam freely, one of the few places left on Earth unrestricted by highways, while golden sunrises and warm evenings help to frame unforgettable days. Sightings of leopards, lions, elephants and birds are commonplace, but the annual migration the Serengeti is most famous for is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. It includes some half-million wildebeest and a quarter million zebras as the largest migration of animals in the world and there are multiple tour operators that can bring you to experience it.
Victoria Falls is located on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa. The largest and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, its indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, translates to “Smoke that Thunders.” In addition to capturing gorgeous photos, visitors can enjoy one of the most exciting whitewater rafting adventures on Earth along the Zambezi, zip-line from one side of Bakota Gorge to the other, or even bungee jump into the spray of nearby falls. A less heart-pounding option might be a sunset cruise along the calm stretch of the Zambezi which sits just above Victoria Falls.
Kruger National Park is one of the world’s best wildlife-watching destinations and one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It boasts the greatest variety of wildlife on the continent, with 145 mammal species, including the Big Five (black rhino, elephant, leopard, lion and Cape buffalo) and a remarkable array of other creatures. The park is inhabited with everything from giraffes, hippos and cheetahs to wild dogs, crocodiles, eagles, colorful hornbills and parrots. It’s also a great choice for those looking for a more affordable, easily accessible self-drive safari and a top activity when exploring South Africa.
Tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda is an experience of a lifetime, something that until fairly recently, few would have been willing or able to make due to the country’s war-torn past. This small nation on the highest African plateau in the heart of the continent, with its undulating hills and mountains enshrouded in mist every morning, gave birth to the saying, “gorillas in the mist.” While trekking gorillas can be a challenge that takes up to eight hours, the reward of viewing some of the less than 1004 of the animals that remain, is well worth the task. In Rwanda, there are 12 groups of gorillas accessible by a maximum of 96 (8 per family) tourists per day in order to prevent over-tourism of the endangered species. Various operators run tours that track them through the dense forest.
Seeing the Pyramids of Giza is something everyone should do once, with the Great Pyramid of Giza the best known of the group that stands just outside Cairo. One of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, it dates back over 4,600 years with their construction a mystery today.
Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro is a feat as Africa’s tallest mountain at 19,000 feet high, particularly when combined with the unpredictable weather. It’s possible to experience all four seasons in one day, with the trek requiring anywhere from five to nine days or more depending on the route. Your reward? Jaw-dropping panoramic views, and a remarkable sense of accomplishment. Some of the animals you might spot make it worth it too, including lions, zebras, wildebeests, crocodiles, gazelle and buffalo.
Riding a camel in the middle of the endless dunes in the Sahara is an incredibly surreal experience, something that can be done from the village of Merzouga in Morocco. It sits on the edge of the impressive Erg Chebbi, an over 30-mile-long and 3-mile-wide set of sand dunes that rise as high as 1,150 feet. Camel treks are an ideal way to get a taste of Bedouin life, including Berber food and music, and spend nights in a desert camp, waking up to the sun’s rays that bath the dunes in gold.
Speaking of sand dunes, in Namibia you can catch one of the world’s most stunning sunrises from Dune 45, the country’s most famous dune. While it may not be the tallest in the Namib desert, it’s the favorite as it can be climbed, with many making the trek up the 262-tall-dune early in the morning to watch the sun come up. While it isn’t easy, it’s another bucket-list experience that’s worth the effort for the reward.
Western Madagascar is home to a collection of spectacular Baobab tress that line the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina. The landscape attracts travelers across the globe, including plenty of Instagrammers, to walk through these massive trees that can live as long as a thousand years, growing to nearly 100 feet tall and 36 feet wide. While there are similar trees, these baobabs are totally unique to Madagascar. The best time to capture a photo is at sunrise or sunset, but you’ll probably have to battle the crowds to get it. While you’re here, you can also watch for some unique wildlife – in fact, 90 percent of the animals and plants are endemic to the island, including lemurs.
Hiking Table Mountain, the most recognizable landmark in Cape Town, is considered a must. Any route you take will bring you to awe-inspiring views over the city and beyond. While you could ride the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, a suspended cable car with rotating 360-degree views, the trek is worth every step. Mowbray Ridge is one of the best routes – while it reaches the top of jagged Devil’s Peak rather than the summit of Table Mountain itself, this is one of the most enjoyable, and it offers a bonus – views of the famous mountain and Lion’s Head while approaching the summit.